|07 - The Good Samaritan, Nov 15, 2015 (with audio)|
[For audio click here]
To His disciples, the LORD said: “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but for others they are given in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” (Lk 8:10) The LORD was repeating what He said to Israel through His prophets. (cf. Ps 115:6-8 & 135:17-18, Jer 5:21, Eze 12:2) He means that Israel was like the idols they worshipped in their secret heart beneath the lip service they gave to the Law. (cf. Isa 29:13) They were spiritually dead.
If biblical faith is the face of the heart turned toward God (cf Gen 2:7), then idolatry is the face of the heart turned away from God. (Jer 8:5) The first step to biblical faith is turning the heart away from idols – e.g., the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life (I Jn 2:16) – and toward the LORD; i.e., repentance.
Clearly, this lawyer was not a man of biblical faith. It says that he was testing Jesus, as though he were the LORD’s judge. Even so, perhaps he was close to faith and needed only the right word to turn his heart full face toward the Face of God to know in his heart that this Jesus is the Son of God. For those like him, then, the lesson of this morning’s parable is as simple as it is saving. Practice mercy even to your enemy as the LORD commands through His holy prophets. In this obedience, you are turning the face of your soul toward God and taking the first step toward biblical faith. You have begun to prepare your heart for “illumination” and you will be ready to receive the LORD Himself in His Holy Spirit to become a child of God.
But, to those who in faith have received the LORD and have become children of God, the lesson of this parable reveals the path into the holiest mysteries of the Kingdom now made manifest in the LORD’s Holy Pascha. (Heb 9:8) Following it in biblical faith, they can become perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect, holy as He is holy; i.e., merciful as He is merciful.
It says that a “certain man” went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the lawyer’s level, the man may simply have been going down to Jericho for business or to visit family. But on the level of sacred mystery, the parable shows Adam turning his face away from God and the Tree of Life in the Heavenly City and going down to the serpent’s tree in the city of the world. The thieves that attack him are the spirits of the prince of the power of the air who works even now in the children of disobedience (Eph 2:2) – i.e., in those who turn their faces away from God and go down from Jerusalem to Jericho. St Paul calls them the spirits of idolatry: fornication, impurity, covetousness and evil desire. (Col 3:5) They leave us spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses. (Eph 2:1)
It says that a Levite and a priest were going “down” the same road. They saw the certain man lying half dead and went around him. The lawyer could take this as a warning against self-righteousness that hardens our heart against our neighbor.
But, the priest and Levite both belonged to the temple. The Levite was a kind of sacristan. He kept the sacred vessels and temple clean. He provided the sacred loaves, he opened and shut the temple gates, he sang the sacred hymns. On the theological level of sacred mystery, one’s mind goes to Isaiah: “This people honor me with their lips but in their heart they are far from me.” (Isa 29:15) While their face is turned toward God in the temple, in their heart the priest and Levite are heading down to Jericho. Deeper yet, the parable seems to make the same point St Paul makes in Hebrews. (9:7-15) The priest and the Levite stand for the temple worship of the OT which, because it was centered on the blood of bulls and goats, could not get to the man left for dead at the side of the road. The blood of bulls and goats is of this world (cf. Heb 9:9) not able to penetrate into the heart where we lie on the side of the path spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses. (cf. Eph 2:1) It has no power to cleanse our conscience from the dead works of our idolatry (Heb 9:8&14) and to raise us from death to life.
But, it says, a certain Samaritan came down to him and when He saw the man left for dead on the side of the road, He felt visceral compassion [splangxna] for him. From the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy and the holy fathers, we recognize the Good Samaritan as Christ. But the Jews themselves tell us: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” they said to Him. (Jn 8:48)
Like this Samaritan, the LORD comes from outside. He comes to us not from the Jerusalem of this world but from the Heavenly Jerusalem; for, He was conceived “outside the seed of man” and born of the Virgin “outside the city” in a cave of Bethlehem. He was crucified “outside the city” and laid in a tomb “outside the city”. The identity of the Good Samaritan is what brings us to the heart of this morning’s parable. He is the only-begotten Son of God the Word incarnate who, when He saw that we had fallen, felt a visceral compassion for us – i.e., a compassion that goes to the gut – and in that visceral compassion, He came down to where we were and did not cease to do all things until He had raised us to Heaven.
This is what we who believe would do well to ponder deeply. God is with us in our deep heart where we lie spiritually dead at the side of the road because we turned away from God and went down from the temple of Jerusalem to the idolatry of Jericho. God is with us in the tomb of our heart because God died! God became our High Priest, but He offered not the blood of bulls and goats. He offered His own blood as a living sacrifice once and for all. (Heb 7:27) St Ignatius of Antioch (1st century) called it the blood of God because it was the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This is why the worship of the Christian Faith in the Temple of the New Testament – which is the very Body of Christ not made with hands, for it was born of the Virgin; and which is not of this creation, for it was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Heb 9:11) – is able to cleanse us all the way down to our conscience (Heb 9:14), to create in us a clean heart and to put in us a new and right spirit. (Ps 51:10) The blood of the LORD Himself is at the center of biblical Christian faith, not the blood of bulls and goats. (Heb 9:10) In the New Temple whose cornerstone was laid in the tomb “outside the city”, the LORD Himself pours on us oil and wine and raises us from death to life to the point that He makes us to become partakers of the divine nature “outside the city” so that we can become like God – and “go and do likewise”.
In biblical faith, then, we receive this as the command to go and love our enemy in the visceral compassion of the LORD that heals and makes alive – and this the Church does do as she goes throughout the world raising people from the dead by baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. But, who of us baptized has a heart so large that we can love our enemy in the visceral compassion of the LORD? How can we possibly obey such a command? Who of us can be saved?
The LORD raises this man up and takes him to the inn. It’s the same movement of the LORD creating Adam. The Good Samaritan lifts the man’s head so that his face is turned toward the LORD as was Adam’s. The LORD pours on his face oil and wine as He breathed into Adam’s face the breath of life. He then takes the man to the inn as He took Adam and placed him in the Garden. He gave Adam work to do, the “work of faith”, the work of training the face of his heart always on the LORD. The inn in the parable is the Church, the Body of Christ. Here, we the baptized have been placed, and we have work to do. It is the work of faith, the work of training our face constantly on the Face of the LORD.
Our hearts are enlarged (II Cor 6:11) in the same way we were raised from death to life in our baptism: by turning our faces toward the LORD in biblical faith and training the face of our heart through the obedience of biblical faith always to face the Face of the LORD. With our heart always facing the LORD we receive the healing oil and wine of the LORD’s Spirit as our food and drink and we grow as children of God into the likeness of our Heavenly Father until we are strong enough to “go and do likewise”, i.e. to love our enemy as Christ in His visceral compassion first loved us. (I Jn 4:19) Amen!